Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The etiquette of reviewer suggestion

When submitting manuscripts to many journals, there is an opportunity to suggest reviewers for the manuscript. I have found that failure to do so can result in one or more reviews where the reviewer obviously had no idea what the heck was going on. However, as I have never suggested anyone as a reviewer, I’m not really sure how this works. Specifically, if one is to suggest a particular person as a reviewer, should one ask that person first? On the one hand, asking someone to review a paper is dobbing them in for a considerable amount of work, and asking for a review without prior contacts seems a bit like listing someone as a personal reference without asking. ON the other hand, the peer review system is supposed to be anonymous (you in the back, stop laughing), so in theory one could interpret potential reviewer solicitation as a breach of confidentiality. My gut feeling would be to ask people with whom I am comfortable corresponding, and to be very equivocal about putting any other names forward (e.g. Dr. X is knowledgeable in the field, but I have no idea whether he has the time or interest to review the paper). Any suggestions?


Anne Jefferson said...

Suggest the reviewers that you think are best qualified to critique the paper and are not likely to hold a huge grudge against you or your data. It's between the reviewers and the editor to negotiate whether they have time to devote to the review. They can always decline if they are too busy. Reviewer workload is not your problem; serve your self interest by suggesting the best reviewers for the paper.

Schlupp said...

The journals I usually submit to explicitly state that you should *not* contact the suggested reviewers about this. But, obviously, the journal is far more concerned about getting not-too-biased reviews than it is about dumping workload on a specific reviewer. I have never contacted the people I suggested, and I usually find likely candidates by considering
1) Whose papers do I enjoy reading in this context. These people are likely to at least be interested in the work.
2) Who might actually benefit from reading my manuscript.
3) Whom do I want to notice my work.
4) And finally, yes, I admit it: Who might be of a roughly similar opinion as me, or at least be tolerant of my approach, methods....

The people in categories 1 and 2 are also less likely to be annoyed about the extra workload than people not working on anything related.

Shaun said...

I normally suggest a mix of reviewers from people who I think would be interested, to experts in a particular aspect of the paper that I'm a bit shaky on (and want to make sure I haven't screwed up on) to people who are big names. In my experience submitting reviewer suggestions I've had the editor:

(1) Completely ignore every name that I have put forward, and pick a bunch of random and less qualified individuals (in my view)

(2) Select all three reviewers from people on my list

(3) Use one suggested reviewer, and a couple of other random reviewers.

So I think some editors find it useful, some just ignore you regardless. It's really down to the editor. I don't think there's really much etiquette involved, most of us end up reviewing more papers than we publish.

Kim Hannula said...

I've never asked potential reviewers if they'd be willing to review. I usually try to think of people who I respect and who are interested in similar problems or who are familiar with the regional geology (and usually suggest a mix of those people).

And if they're busy or aren't interested in reviewing, they can always say no.